I always drew, and when I was doing my art foundation at Central Saint Martins my drawing developed into a kind of graphomania style of drawing. All I seemed to draw was birds with human faces, likening them to us. I had a desire to make these drawings 3D and started to stuff them with cotton wool and stitch them up. After that my mind was made up and drawing was simply not enough for me.
A show that has continued to stay with me was The Age of the Marvellous exhibition held in 2009 at The Crypt in London. It was a show inspired by the Wunderkammer or Cabinet of Curiosities. I felt like my work fitted in there and taxidermy felt like a natural progression for me.
While I was a student I used to go to the butchers in Borough Market and get pheasants, pigeons, partridges and mallards to practice skinning at home. They were sold for their meat so I would usually make a game pie that evening and have a feast with friends. But funnily enough, the last thing you feel like eating is pheasant if you've been de-fleshing it all day, the smell stays with you and it doesn't taste the same. Everyone else seemed to enjoy it though.
Being the first year to graduate from the new Central Saint Martins building in Kings Cross put a lot of pressure on me and my contemporaries. The building was so big and invasive to us that we felt inclined to fill the space and try not to get swallowed up by it, we all made the biggest work we've ever made and have always felt the need to stand out.
I have always been inspired by the otherness of birds, how they are alike but unlike us and our relationship with non human animals. I find it incredible that throughout history bird’s flight has inspired the human imagination so that birds are embedded in our religions folklore, music and arts.
I have found working with death very challenging and anxiety inducing at times, especially when I first started doing taxidermy. Skinning the body of a dead animal is a very intense and compelling reality. While the body is still attached to the skin it appears alike but unlike us, everything is in the same place. As the body is slowly cut away from the skin the body transforms into meat or waste. This physical detachment and removal of the animal body allows you to mentally detach from the dead animal. Although I find the skinning process the most difficult aspect of my practice it is also the most important part and I wouldn't want to become desensitized by death.
My work is process led so I always start my day by skinning a bird and let the ideas evolve naturally. I lay the bird on its back and make the first incision down the breast bone, I open up both sides of the body using my fingers and a scalpel. I work the skin down the back cutting through muscles and bones. I cut past the neck up to the skull, and then I detach the body. Once I have laboriously removed all of the flesh and fat from the skin, the bird is washed in soapy water. When the skin is dry it starts to become something other, I start to look at the forms it can take and examine the colors of the feathers. The next part of the process is drawing and making the abstract form that the skin will encompass.
I work ethically and seasonally, working with birds that are shot for their meat or because they are pests at certain times of the year. My only concern is when others don't fully understand what I do and think I am going out with a shot gun every morning.
I have spent the past year experimenting with deer furs, stretching skins over abstract forms to see where it will take me. I try to push myself in other directions when I hit an artist block. Even if it doesn't work at the time, the experimentation always feeds into my work in other ways.
Unlike the role of a traditional taxidermist, who want to hide their authorship to preclude the fact that you are actually dealing with a dead animal. I want the viewer to be aware of the dead animal in front of them, to think about the taxidermy process and to see my hand in the making.
Using a diverse combination of bird skins and wings, reshaping them beyond a literal depiction towards a more expressive end allows the viewer to see the transformation of life and death.
I am currently making a series of large swarm-like sculptural pieces towards my first solo show at West Dean in Sussex on the 9th of May 2015. West Dean is famous for its iconic gardens and I will be exhibiting to coincide with the opening of West Dean House to the public.